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Eating bugs to save the planet

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					                                                                                                    Dunkel stayed up baking until three.
                           DEpT.	Of	GASTRONOmY                                                  The next day, at Insects and Human So-
                                                                                                ciety, she had her students do a honey
                                                                                                tasting, reminding them that honey is,
                                    GRUb                                                        of course, the vomit of a bee. Then Ky-
                                                                                                Phuong Luong, the T.A., stirred a wok
                            Eating bugs to save the planet.                                     full of vegetables and soy-marinated
                                                                                                crickets, and Dunkel passed a plate of
                             bY	DANA	 GOODYEAR                                                  fritters with yellowish wax worms pro-
                                                                                                truding from their centers. “We left out

F    lorence Dunkel, an entomologist at
     Montana State University, lives in
a red saltbox house at the edge of the
                                                gist, is Dr. Death—and set the oven to
                                                225 degrees for the PetSmart subadults.
                                                    “Meanwhile, we need to get the wax
                                                                                                the bacon,” she said, smiling sweetly. The
                                                                                                students talked about ethnocentrism
                                                                                                (eighty per cent of the world eats insects
woods outside Bozeman, with her hus-            worms separated,” she said. They were           with pleasure), sustainability, and the
band, Bob, whose nickname for her is            for “land shrimp cocktail,” which Dunkel        earth’s diminishing resources. After a
Ladybug, and, until recently, with Ger-         would serve to her Insects and Human            while, they started, tentatively, to eat. A
trude, a fine-limbed grass-green katydid         Society class the next day, accompanied         young man in a green wool ski cap said
she rescued from an airplane. The walls         by cocktail sauce made by Bob, using            that he would be more enthusiastic if
of her kitchen are covered with pictures        horseradish from their garden. “They’re         he had some beer to wash the insects
of her eight grandchildren, who call her        going to want to wander as they get             down. Standing before a plate of brownies
Oma, or, in the case of one grandson, the       warm.” She opened a plastic container           fortified with a mash of the sautéed meal-
Beetle Oma. In a bay window overlook-           secured with red tape that read “WORMS          worms, he said despondently, “This is
ing a vegetable garden, dried flowers hang       ALIVE” and dumped the worms—the                 the future! You’ll eat worms and like it.
next to a stained-glass dragonfly.               larvae of the wax moth, which were              You gotta eat something.”
    One freezing night at the end of Feb-       plump and white and had come from a
ruary, Dunkel, who is petite, with fluffy
gray curls and rosebud lips, was puttering
around her kitchen, a large pair of glasses
                                                bait shop in Minnesota—onto a brown
                                                plate. They were covered in cedar shav-
                                                ings. My job was to separate the worms
                                                                                                I  nsects were among the original spe-
                                                                                                    cialty foods in the American gourmet
                                                                                                marketplace—inspired, impractical prov-
suspended from a sparkly chain around           from the shavings, picking out the black        ocations that, like runway styles in retail
her neck and an apron tied at her waist.        ones (blackness is a sign of necrosis) and      clothing, drove the sales of more basic
She pulled out her old Betty Crocker rec-       dismantling the cocoons of the ones that        goods. In the early nineteen-forties, Max
ipe binder—she has had it since 1962—           had started to pupate, while making sure        Ries, a German-Jewish textile manufac-
and put on her glasses. She opened it to        none got away. The worms were chubby            turer, came to Chicago and established
a page, yellow with use, for chocolate-         and firm, with the springiness of clemen-        himself as a purveyor of imported cheese
chip Toll House cookies. Like many              tine segments. They swayed deliriously,         to an American public that was beginning
cooks, Dunkel likes to make a recipe her        testing the air. I got to work sorting, de-     to be fascinated by exotic food. Ries was
own. Betty Crocker called for half a cup        silking, herding.                               slim and dashing; he wore handmade
of chopped walnuts. In the margin, in a             “Oh! I can smell the crickets now,”         suits and twirled his cigars. Alongside
loopy hand—the penmanship of a girl             Dunkel said, as the aroma of toasted nuts       tinned tiger and elephant meat—culled
who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin in           filled the kitchen. She took them out of         from zoos and sold at department stores—
the nineteen-fifties—Dunkel had sug-             the oven, and started to pull off the ovi-       he presented “French-fried ants” from
gested a substitution: “or fresh roasted        positors and the legs, which can stick in       Venezuela and baby bees from Japan,
crickets.”                                      the throat. When I finished with the wax         conversation pieces that lent glamour to
    The crickets were presenting some-          worms, she said, “The next species we’re        his company, Reese Finer Foods, which
thing of a problem. Her usual supplier, in      going to deal with is Tenebrio molitor,         actually made its money selling canned
California, had run out of large ones, and      which is a beetle. We’re going to wash          water chestnuts, artichoke hearts, and
instead had sent her a thousand live pin-       them, and then we’re going to fry them          baby corn. Like fashionistas, gourmets
heads—babies—which she’d had to sup-            in butter.” She handed me a container           have a sense of theatre. Excluded from the
plement with a hundred and twenty-five           full of bran and beetle larvae—skinny,          first Fancy Food Show, at the Sheraton-
expensive subadults from PetSmart. Be-          crusty, yellowish—commonly known as             Astor, in New York, in 1955, Ries hired
fore checking her recipe, Dunkel had            mealworms. I shook the mixture through          a limousine to shuttle buyers to a nearby
picked up a pinhead. “I’ve never used these     a sieve; as I rinsed off the last of the bran,   hotel, where he had set up his own show,
for food,” she said, kneading it between        the worms clung to the side like sailors        exhibiting only Reese products. (After
her index finger and thumb, a chef in-           on a capsized ship. Dunkel dumped               that, the New Yorkers relented and gave
specting an unfamiliar piece of meat. “I’m      them in a buttery frying pan, where they        him a booth, which became a mainstay.)
not even sure I’ll take the head off.” She’d     hissed and squirmed before going sud-           When Reese had overstock of its Spooky
decided to put the pinheads in the freezer      denly still. They smelled of wild mush-         Foods gift set—chocolate-covered ants,
to kill them—another of her nicknames,          rooms, and tasted, spooned hot into my          roasted butterflies, barbecue bees—it
inspired by her work as an insect patholo-      hand, like sunflower seeds.                      hired Bela Lugosi to appear in his Drac-
38	      THE	NEW	YORKER,	AUGUST	15	&	22,	2011
ula costume with the product, which in tequila; chipotle paste; and Oaxacan chronic hunger—the journal Science pub-
promptly sold out.                             grasshoppers, in a hand-made tortilla— lished a special issue on “food security,”
    Insects—part delicacy, part gag—are at his Washington, D.C., restaurant Oy- and included a piece on entomophagy,
chic again. Once a staple on “Fear Factor,” amel. He sees bug-eating as both a gas- the unappealing name by which insect-
they were featured on “Top Chef Masters” tronomic experience (he recommends eating properly goes. Acknowledging that
this season. (The winning dish: tempura- the mouthfeel of a small, young, crispy the notion might be “unappetizing to
fried crickets with sunchoke-carrot purée chapulín) and a matter of survival. “We many,” the editors wrote: “The quest for
and blood-orange vinaigrette.) At John need to feed humanity in a sustainable food security may require us all to recon-
Rivera Sedlar’s ambitious Latin restaurant way,” he says. “Those who know how to sider our eating habits, particularly in view
Rivera, in Los Angeles, where the tasting produce protein will have an edge over ev- of the energy consumption and environ-
menu includes Atlantic Cod                                                                              mental costs that sustain
in the Spirit of New World                                                                              those habits.”
Discoveries, the cocktail list                                                                              From an ecological per-
features the Donaji, a four-                                                                            spective, insects have a lot to
teen-dollar drink named                                                                                 recommend them. They are
after a Zapotec princess,                                                                               renowned for their small
which is made with artisanal                                                                            “foodprint”; being cold-
Oaxacan mescal and house-                                                                               blooded, they are about four
made grasshopper salt. (On                                                                              times as efficient at convert-
its own, the salt tastes like                                                                           ing feed to meat as are cat-
Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt,                                                                             tle, which waste energy
crushed Bac-Os, and fish-                                                                                keeping themselves warm.
food flakes; the bartender                                                                               Ounce for ounce, many have
recommends it as a rub for                                                                              the same amount of pro-
grilled meat.)                                                                                          tein as beef—fried grass-
    Bricia Lopez supplies the                                                                           hoppers have three times as
bugs for Sedlar’s drinks; at                                                                            much—and are rich in mi-
Guelaguetza, the Oaxacan                                                                                cronutrients like iron and
restaurant that her parents                                                                             zinc. Genetically, they are so
opened in Los Angeles in                                                                                distant from humans that
1994, she serves a scrump-                                                                              there is little likelihood of
tious plate of chapulines a la                                                                          diseases jumping species, as
Mexicana—grasshoppers                                                                                   swine flu did. They are nat-
sautéed with onions, jalape-                                                                            ural recyclers, capable of eat-
ños, and tomatoes, and                                                                                  ing old cardboard, manure,
topped with avocado and                                                                                 and by-products from food
Oaxacan string cheese.                                                                                  manufacturing. And insect
Lopez, who is twenty-six                                                                                husbandry is humane: bugs
and a glamorous fixture of                                                                               like teeming, and thrive in
the L.A. food scene, says                                                                               filthy, crowded conditions.
that more and more Anglo                                                                                    In December, a group of
hipsters are coming in to                                                                               scientists at Wageningen
order them. “Eating grass-                                                                              University, in the Nether-
hoppers is a thing you do                                                                               lands, published a paper
here,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh, For entomophagists, insects—or “mini-livestock”—are an efficient           concluding that insects
my God, I ate a grasshop- and tasty source of animal protein. Photographs by Hans Gissinger. reared for human con-
per, woo.’ ” She went on,                                                                               sumption produce signifi-
“There’s more of a cool factor involved. It’s eryone else. World War Three will be cantly lower quantities of greenhouse
not just ‘Let’s go get a burrito.’ It’s ‘Let’s over control of water and food, and the in- gases than do cattle and pigs. “This study
get a mole ’ or ‘Let’s get a grasshopper.’ ”   sects may be an answer.”                    therefore indicates that insects could
    The current vogue reflects not only the                                                 serve as a more environmentally friendly
American obsession with novelty and the
upper-middle-class hunger for authentic-      D      emographers have projected that by alternative for the production of animal
                                                     2050 the world’s population will protein,” the paper said. One of its au-
ity but also deep anxiety about the meat have increased to nine billion, and the de- thors was Arnold van Huis, an entomol-
we already eat—which is its own kind of mand for meat will grow with it, particu- ogist who is working to establish a mar-
fashion. José Andrés, who this year won larly in dense, industrializing countries ket for insect-based products in the
the James Beard Foundation’s Outstand- like China and India. Last year—a year in Netherlands, with funding from the
ing Chef award, makes a very popular which, according to the United Nations, Dutch government; the agriculture min-
chapulín taco—sautéed shallots, deglazed nearly a billion people suffered from istry recently gave him a million euros to
	                                                                                        THE	NEW	YORKER,	AUGUST	15	&	22,	2011	      39
research insect husbandry. “We have a cago, recently started a company called problem that Westerners have with them.
food crisis, especially a meat crisis, and Entom Foods, which is working on de- “Maybe we should stop telling people
people are starting to realize that we need shelling insects using pressurization tech- they’re eating insects,” he said. “If you say
alternatives, and insects are just an excel- nology—trade secret—in the hope of sell- it’s mealworms, it makes people think of
lent alternative,” van Huis said.            ing the meat in cutlet form. “The problem ringworm. So stop saying ‘worm.’ If we
    On a trip to Africa, in 1995, when is the ick factor—the eyes, the wings, the use the Latin names, say it’s a Tenebrio
van Huis was on sabbatical, he travelled legs,” he said. “It’s not as simple as hiding quiche, it sounds much more fancy, and
to a dozen countries, interviewing locals it in a bug nugget. People won’t accept it it’s part of the marketing.” (There’s a prec-
about their relationship with insects. beyond the novelty. When you think of a edent for this: in the nineteenth century,
Half the people he spoke                                                                               English members of the
with talked about eating                                                                               Society for the Propagation
them, and he finally over-                                                                              of Horse Flesh as an Article
came their reluctance—                                                                                 of Food had French chefs
born of centuries of colo-                                                                             prepare banquets of the
nial opprobrium—to share                                                                               meat they called chevaline.)
some with him. “I had ter-                                                                             The other option, Dicke
mites, which were roasted,                                                                             said, is to cover the bugs in
and they were excellent,” he                                                                           chocolate, because people
said. When he got home,                                                                                will eat anything covered in
he offered a bag of termites                                                                            chocolate.
to Marcel Dicke, the head
of his department—he
liked them—and the two
started a popular lecture se-
                                                                                                        T    he practice of ethical
                                                                                                             entomophagy started
                                                                                                       haphazardly. In 1974, Gene
ries that addressed insects’                                                                           DeFoliart, who was the
potential as a food source.                                                                            chair of entomology at the
After van Huis and Dicke                                                                               University of Wisconsin,
organized an insect festival                                                                           was asked by a colleague to
that drew twenty thousand                                                                              recommend someone who
people, they were ap-                                                                                  could talk about edible in-
proached by several meal-                                                                              sects as part of a symposium
worm and cricket farmers                                                                               on unconventional protein
who had been serving the                                                                               sources. Then, as now, en-
pet-food industry but were                                                                             tomology was more con-
interested in diversifying.                                                                            cerned with insect eradica-
“We know that Western                                                                                  tion than cultivation, and,
peoples have some diffi-                                                                                 not finding a willing partic-
culties psychologically with                                                                           ipant, DeFoliart decided to
ingesting insects, so we are                                                                           take on the project himself.
looking at some ways of in-                                                                            He began his talk—and the
troducing them into food                                                                               paper he eventually pub-
so that people will no lon-                                                                            lished—with a startling
ger recognize them,” van                                                                               statement: “C. F. Hodge
Huis said. Insect flour was In Oaxaca, grasshoppers are popular snacks, but shrimp are shunned. (1911) calculated that a pair
one option. “Another pos-                                                                              of houseflies beginning op-
sibility is that you can grind insects and chicken you think of a chicken breast, not erations in April could produce enough
make them into a hot dog or a fish stick,” the eyes, wings, and beak. We’re trying to flies, if all survived, to cover the earth
he said. Together, van Huis and Dicke do the same thing with insects, create a forty-seven feet deep by August,” he said.
have helped get mealworms and pro- stepping-stone, so that when you get a “If one can reverse for a moment the
cessed snacks like Bugs Nuggets into the bug nugget you think of the bug steak, not usual focus on insects as enemies of man,
Dutch grocery chain Sligro.                  the whole animal.” If he can overcome Hodge’s layer of flies represents an im-
    The Dutch are, for reasons of geogra- some of the technical challenges—like pressive pile of animal protein.”
phy, especially concerned about the effects the fact that insect protein does not take      DeFoliart envisioned a place for edible
of global warming; they are also progres- the form of muscle, but is, as he put it, insects as a luxury item. The larvae of the
sive when it comes to food development. “goopy”—he plans to have a product out wax moth (Galleria mellonella) seemed to
But entrepreneurs in the United States next year.                                       him to be poised to become the next es-
are starting to explore edible insects, too.    In Dicke’s opinion, simply changing cargot, which in the late eighties repre-
Matthew Krisiloff, who just finished his the language surrounding food insects sented a three-hundred-million-dollar-a-
freshman year at the University of Chi- could go a long way toward solving the year business in the United States. “Given
40	      THE	NEW	YORKER,	AUGUST	15	&	22,	2011
a choice, New York diners looking for ad-       works, kwashiorkor is on the rise; in recent      might denature proteins as effectively as a
venture and willing to pay $22 for half a       years, nearby fields have been planted with        chemical solution, and might be more
roasted free-range chicken accompanied          cotton, and pesticide use has intensified.         readily available in the field, he soaked
by a large pile of shoestring potatoes          Mothers now warn their children not to            large sarcophagid maggots in baths of
might well prefer a smaller pile of Galleria    collect the grasshoppers, which they rightly      grapefruit, lemon, lime, and pomelo juice,
at the same price,” he wrote. He and a          fear may be contaminated.                         and voilà! Maggot ceviche. “It’s a little
handful of colleagues, including Dunkel,            Mainly, the entomophagists bemoaned           chewy,” he said. “But tasty.”
began to study and promote the potential        the prejudice against insects. “In our
of what they called “mini-livestock,” and,
in The Food Insects Newsletter, they re-
ported the results of nutritional analyses
                                                minds, they’re associated with filth,”
                                                Heather Looy, a psychologist who has
                                                studied food aversions, said over dinner
                                                                                                  F    ood preferences are highly local, often
                                                                                                       irrational, and defining: a Frenchman
                                                                                                  is a frog because he considers their legs
and assessed the efficiency of insects like       after the symposium. “They go dirty places,       food and the person who calls him one
crickets—the most delectable of which,          but so do fungi, and we eat                                       does not. In Santa María
entomophagists are fond of pointing out,        those all the time. And you                                       Atzompa, a community in
belong to the genus Gryllus.                    don’t want to know about                                          Oaxaca where grasshoppers
     In December, a group of DeFoliart’s        crabs and shrimp and lob-                                         toasted with garlic, chile,
disciples gathered at a resort in San Diego     ster.” Crabs, shrimp, and                                         and lime are a favorite treat,
for a symposium on entomophagy at the           lobster are, like insects, ar-                                    locals have traditionally
annual conference of the Entomological          thropods—but instead of                                           found shrimp repulsive.
Society of America. Because there is no         eating fresh lettuces and                                         “They would say ‘some
significant funding available for ento-          flowers, as many insects do,                                       people’ eat it, meaning ‘the
mophagy research, it has never been taken       they scavenge debris from the ocean floor.         coastal people,’ ” Ramona Pérez, an an-
seriously by most professional entomolo-            This injustice—lobster is a delicacy,         thropologist at San Diego State Univer-
gists. Dunkel, who in her half century          while vegetarian crustaceans like wood lice       sity, says. When she made scampi for a
in academia has many times heard col-           are unfit for civilized man—is a center-           family there, she told me, they were ap-
leagues discourage interested graduate          piece of the literature of entomophagy.           palled; the mother, who usually cooked
students, often finds herself at odds with       “Why Not Eat Insects?,” an 1885 mani-             with her, refused to help, and the daugh-
others in her field. It was a relief, then, to   festo by Vincent M. Holt, which is the            ters wouldn’t eat. The coast is less than a
be among the like-minded. “Your soap-           founding document of the movement, ex-            hundred miles away.
moth-pupae chutney—I’ll never forget            pounds upon the vile habits of the insects            Most of the world eats bugs. Australian
how that tasted!” she said, introducing a       of the sea. “The lobster, a creature con-         Aborigines like witchetty grubs, which,
colleague from the Insectarium, in Mon-         sumed in incredible quantities at all the         according to the authors of “Man Eating
treal, which holds a bug banquet every          highest tables in the land, is such a foul        Bugs,” taste like “nut-flavored scrambled
other year. The entomophagists hoped to         feeder that, for its sure capture, the expe-      eggs and mild mozzarella, wrapped in a
capitalize on the momentum they per-            rienced fisherman will bait his lobster-pot        phyllo dough pastry.” Tenebrio molitor is
ceived. “We don’t have to be the kooky,         with putrid flesh or fish which is too far          factory-farmed in China; in Venezuela,
nerdy entomologists who eat bugs be-            gone even to attract a crab,” he writes.          children roast tarantulas. Besides, as any
cause we’re crazy,” an entomologist from            Holt’s compelling, if Swiftian, argu-         bug-eater will tell you, we are all already
the University of Georgia said. “Twenty         ment addresses the food problems of his           eating bugs, whether we mean to or not.
years ago, sushi was the eww factor; you        day—“What a pleasant change from the              According to the F.D.A., which publishes
did not see sushi in grocery stores. Now        labourer’s unvarying meal of bread, lard,         a handbook on “defect levels” acceptable
it’s the cultural norm.”                        and bacon, or bread and lard without              in processed food, frozen or canned spin-
     At the conference, Dunkel talked about     bacon, would be a good dish of fried cock-        ach is not considered contaminated until
her frustration working in West Africa,         chafers or grasshoppers”—but he is inno-          it has fifty aphids, thrips, or mites per hun-
where for decades European and Ameri-           cent of the nuances of food marketing.            dred grams. Peanut butter is allowed to
can entomologists, through programs like        Among the sample menus he supplies are            have thirty insect fragments per hundred
U.S.A.I.D. and British Locust Control,          offerings like Boiled Neck of Mutton with          grams, and chocolate is O.K. up to sixty. In
have killed grasshoppers and locusts,           Wire-worm Sauce and Moths on Toast.               each case, the significance of the contami-
which are complete proteins, in order to        At dinner in San Diego, it occurred to me         nation is given as “aesthetic.”
preserve the incomplete proteins in millet,     that this naïveté had carried down. I was             In fresh vegetables, insects are inev-
wheat, barley, sorghum, and maize. Her          sitting next to Lou Sorkin, a forensic en-        itable. The other day, cleaning some
field work in Mali focusses on the role of       tomologist at the American Museum of              lettuce, I was surprised by an emerald-
grasshoppers in the diets of children, who,     Natural History who is also an expert on          green pentagon with antennae: a stink-
for cultural reasons, do not eat chicken        bedbugs, probably the most loathed insect         bug. I got rid of it immediately. But
or eggs. Grasshoppers contain essential         in the United States today. He had arrived        daintiness about insects has true con-
amino acids and serve as a crucial buffer        at his latest culinary discovery, he said,        sequences. As Tom Turpin, an ento-
against kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency        while experimenting with mediums for              mologist at Purdue University, said,
that impedes physical and neurological de-      preserving maggots collected from mur-            “Attitudes in this country result in
velopment. In the village where Dunkel          dered corpses. Realizing that citrus juice        more pesticide use, because we’re scared
	                                                                                              THE	NEW	YORKER,	AUGUST	15	&	22,	2011	         43
about an aphid wing in our spinach.”            correspondingly, are seen as suspect,           ing on entomophagy and has been writ-
    The antipathy that Europeans and            other, and possibly inhuman, an idea re-        ing an epic poem about insects for the
their descendants display toward eat-           inforced by countless mass-culture im-          past fourteen years, were in town to com-
ing insects is stubborn, and mysterious.        ages, including most science fiction.)           pete in a cookery competition at the Nat-
Insect consumption is in our cultural           Some object to the form in which insects        ural History Museum’s annual bug fair.
heritage. The Romans ate beetle grubs           are presented—entire—though lobsters,               Martin, who is thirty-four, with a
reared on flour and wine; ancient Greeks         mussels, oysters, clams, and even, increas-     heart-shaped face and a telegenic smile,
ate grasshoppers. Leviticus, by some in-        ingly, in this age of whole-animal cook-        stood at the counter in the small kitchen
terpretations, permits the eating of lo-        ery, pigs come to the table intact. Others      pulling embryonic drones—bee brood—
custs, grasshoppers, and crickets. (The         locate their disgust in the fact that one has   from honeycomb. They were for bee pat-
rest are unkosher.) The manna eaten by          to eat the chitinous exoskeleton, but the       ties, part of a “Bee L T” sandwich she was
Moses on his way out of Egypt is widely         same is true for soft-shell crab, which is      going to enter in the competition. But,
believed to have been honeydew, the             rarely considered barbarous to eat.             finding them irresistible, she fried up a
sweet excrement of scale insects.                   Morphology might be at the root of          few to snack on. “It tastes like bacon,” she
    Contemporary Westerners tend to             the problem, however. Processing insects        said rapturously. “I’m going to eat the
associate insects with filth, death, and         is labor-intensive, and they are not ex-        whole plate unless someone gets in there.”
decay, and, because some insects feed on        actly filling. One would have to eat about       I did: the drones, dripping in butter and
flesh, their consumption is often seen as        a thousand grasshoppers to equal the            lightly coated with honey from their cells,
cannibalism by proxy. Holt takes pains          amount of protein in a twelve-ounce             were fatty and a little bit sweet, and, like
to stress that the insects he recommends        steak. According to Larry Peterman, the         everything chitinous, left me with a dis-
for eating—caterpillars, grasshoppers,          owner of HotLix, a company that sells           turbing aftertaste of dried shrimp.
slugs—are pure of this taint. “My in-           tequila-flavored lollipops with meal-                Gracer opened the freezer and in-
sects are all vegetable feeders, clean, pal-    worms in them and Sour Cream &                  spected his bugs: housefly pupae, cicadas,
atable, wholesome, and decidedly more           Onion Crick-ettes (“the other Green             and, his favorite, ninety-dollar-a-pound
particular in their feeding than our-           Meat”), processed crickets cost hundreds        katydids from Uganda. “They’re very rich,
selves,” he writes. “While I am confident        of dollars a pound. Unlike those found in       almost buttery,” he said. “They almost
that they will never condescend to eat us,      the tropics, European bugs do not grow          taste as if they’ve gone around the bend.”
I am equally confident that, on finding           big enough to make good food, so there              “Dave, where’s the tailless whip scor-
out how good they are, we shall some day        is no culinary tradition, and therefore no      pion?” Martin said, and Gracer produced
right gladly cook and eat them.”                infrastructure, to support the practice.        an elegantly armored black creature with
    In the overcoming of resistance to          Tom Turpin told me, “If there were in-          a foreleg like a calligraphy flourish. “I’m
certain foods, Frederick J. Simoons, the        sects out there the size of pigs, I guaran-     thinking about doing a tempura type of
author of the classic text on food taboos       tee you we’d be eating them.”                   fry and a spicy mayonnaise,” Martin, who
“Eat Not This Flesh,” says, timing is ev-                                                       also worked for a number of years in a
erything. He cites Emperor Meiji’s con-
sumption of beef—a Buddhist sacri-
lege—as the dawn of Japan’s embrace of
                                                T     he next stinkbug I came across I ate.
                                                      It was lightly fried, and presented on
                                                a slice of apple, whose flavor it is said to
                                                                                                Japanese restaurant, said. First, she flash-
                                                                                                fried it to soften the exoskeleton, and
                                                                                                then she dipped it in tempura batter. To
the West. Noritoshi Kanai, the eighty-          resemble. (I found it a touch medicinal.)       her knowledge, no one had ever before
eight-year-old president of Mutual              This was in a one-story white clapboard         eaten a tailless whip scorpion. “All right,
Trading Company, which imports gold             house in the West Adams neighborhood            people, let’s make history,” she said, using
flakes and matsutake essence to sell to          of Los Angeles, with a skateboard half-         a pair of chopsticks to lower it back into
high-end sushi restaurants like Masa            pipe in the back yard, which had been           the pan, where it sizzled violently.
and Nobu, introduced sushi to the               rented by Daniella Martin and Dave                  When the scorpion was finished, she
United States in the nineteen-sixties.          Gracer, two advocates of entomophagy.           put it on a plate, and she and Gracer sat
Because sushi is raw and handled with-          Martin had reserved the place under false       down on a couch to feast on what looked
out gloves in front of the customer, ev-        pretenses. “We told them we were scien-         like far too much bug for me, and yet not
eryone told him that the American               tists,” Martin said, giggling. In fact, Mar-    nearly enough to satisfy hunger. Gracer
public would never accept it. The con-          tin, who used to be an Internet game-           pulled off a pincer. “There’s something—
vergence of three factors, he says,             show host, writes a blog called “Girl           that white stuff—that’s meat!” he cried,
changed their minds: the food pyramid,          Meets Bug”; she and Gracer, an English          pointing to a speck of flesh. “That’s meat!”
which emphasized fish; the rise of the           instructor who travels the country lectur-      Martin repeated excitedly, and exhorted
Japanese car; and “Shogun.”                                                                     him to try it. He tasted; she tasted. “Fish,”
    Promoters of entomophagy may face a                                                         Gracer said. “It has the consistency of
bigger obstacle. Unlike sushi, which was                                                        fish.” Martin split a leg apart and nibbled.
seen as an inedible form of an edible sub-                                                      In a few bites, they had eaten all there was.
stance, most Westerners view insects as                                                         “That was really good,” she said.
inappropriate for eating—the psycholog-                                                             The following morning, in a tent on
ical equivalent of wood or paper—or dan-                                                        the front lawn of the Natural History
gerous, like cleaning fluid. (Insect-eaters,                                                     Museum, Gracer faced Zack (the Cajun
44	      THE	NEW	YORKER,	AUGUST	15	&	22,	2011
Bug Chef ) Lemann, an established bug
cooker from New Orleans, who dazzled
the judges—most of them children—
with his “odonate hors d’oeuvres,” fried
wild-caught dragonflies served on sau-
téed mushrooms with Dijon-soy butter.
(Children are often seen as the great hope
of entomophagy, because of their open-
ness to new foods, but even they are not
without prejudices. Gracer, who pre-
sented stinkbug-and-kale salad, had ne-
glected to account for the fact that kids
don’t like kale.) A five-year-old ap-
proached Lemann afterward. “Excuse
me, can I eat a dragonfly?” he said. Le-
mann cooked one for him. The boy
picked the batter off, to reveal a wing as
elaborately paned as a cathedral window,
and then bit into it: his first bug. His lit-
tle brother, who was three, came over and
asked for a bite. “Good,” he pronounced.
    “Who’s going to eat the head?” their
mother asked.                                                                      “Seriously, who is it?”
    “I will,” the five-year-old said. “Once
somebody licks the mustard off.”                                                           •             •
    The last round of the day matched
Martin against Gracer. He was making
Ugandan-katydid-and-grilled-cheese                  come to Worm City, Compton, Cal.,                a current market price of seventy dollars
sandwiches. Drawing on her Japanese-                90220½. Population: 990,000,000.” The            a pound. A delicacy since Aztec times—
restaurant experience, Martin decided to            farm supplies six hundred thousand               they were used as tribute to Mocte-
make a spider roll, using a rose-haired ta-         worms a week to the San Diego Zoo.               zuma—they are still a prized ingredient
rantula. She held up the spider and                 “It’s mostly animals we feed,” Rhyme’s           in high-end Mexico City restaurants,
burned off its hair with a lighter, and              wife, Betty, who is the company’s presi-         where they appear on the menu as es-
then removed its abdomen. “The prob-                dent, told me. “The people are some-             camoles; they are also known, colloquially,
lem with eating an actual spider roll,              thing of an oddity.”                             as Mexican caviar, or ant eggs.
made with crab, is that they’re bottom                  For the do-it-yourself set, there are            Like humans, Liometopum apiculatum
feeders,” she said. “This spider probably           rearing and grinding kits, invented by           ants are opportunists; they will eat any-
ate only crickets, which ate only grass.”           Rosanna Yau, a designer in San Fran-             thing they can overpower, and, because
She whipped up a sauce and added a few              cisco, who has sold insect snacks at the         they do not sting, they tear their prey to
slices of cucumber, and then presented              San Francisco Underground Market.                shreds. (They are also ranchers, tending
her dish to the judges, warning them                The business card for her Web site, mini-        flocks of aphids and defending them
brightly to “be very careful of the fangs!”         livestock.org, has a packet of dried meal-       from lady beetles, in exchange for the
    A young girl with curly hair lunged             worms attached to the back, and a warn-          aphids’ surplus honeydew.) They burrow
eagerly at the plate. “If it’s in sushi, I’ll eat   ing to those with shellfish allergies not to      under boulders or at the base of trees, and
it,” she said. When she had tried a piece,          consume them: insects and shellfish are           live in colonies of up to fifty thousand
she declared, “It’s sushi. With spiders. It’s       such close cousins that the allergy tends        members. Traditionally, they were
awesome.”                                           to extend to both.                               hunted only by experienced escamoleros,
                                                        Most edible insects, though, are wild-       but, according to Julieta Ramos-Elorduy,

F    our-fifths of the animal species on
     earth are insects, and yet food insects
are not particularly easy to find. Home
                                                    harvested and highly seasonal, and not
                                                    U.S.D.A.-approved. Until a citation
                                                    from the health department prompted
                                                                                                     a biologist who studies food insects at the
                                                                                                     National Autonomous University of
                                                                                                     Mexico, their desirability has invited
cooks can call Fred Rhyme, of Rainbow               them to set up a certified facility in Oa-        poachers, who overharvest and destroy
Mealworms, who provided the Mada-                   xaca, the Lopezes got the chapulines they        the nests. The ants, which are most read-
gascar hissing cockroaches for “Fear Fac-           served at Guelaguetza from friends and           ily available in the state of Hidalgo, are
tor.” He sells more than a billion worms            relatives, who packed them in their carry-       also found in the southwestern United
a year; the sign at the edge of his farm, a         ons when they visited from Mexico.               States. High prices have inspired North
conglomeration of twenty-three trailers,                Consider the immature Liometopum             American foragers to get in on the busi-
shotgun houses, and former machine                  apiculatum, exquisitely subtle, palest           ness. “Recently at San Juan market in
shops in South Los Angeles, says, “Wel-             beigy-pink, knobbly as a seed pearl, with        Mexico City, monopolizers informed us
	                                                                                                 THE	NEW	YORKER,	AUGUST	15	&	22,	2011	      45
that small airplanes loaded with tons of        when it came into his yard. (Usually, he         eventually Nadia, a young woman wear-
the product arrived from the United             finds chicken disgusting, and eats it only        ing a dirty chef’s coat and a white apron,
States and sold it to the highest bidders,”     when he’s home in France.) Certain laws          appeared. “You come for the escamoles?”
Ramos-Elorduy wrote in a 2006 paper.            just don’t make sense to him, like the one       she said. “O.K., I get for you.” She re-
    You can’t really buy escamoles in Amer-     that prohibits him from serving a dessert        turned a minute later with a plastic shop-
ica. Joe Raffa, the head chef at Oyamel,         made from chocolate hot-boxed with pot           ping bag containing a large ziplock filled
who gets his chapulines sent from Oaxaca        smoke. “What’s one gram of marijuana,            with half a kilo of frozen product. Que-
in kilo bags (“It all sounds very covert and    just to have the smoke infuse the choco-         nioux handed her a hundred-dollar bill.
druglike,” he said), has scoured D.C. mar-      late?” he said. Last year, when his restau-          Getting back in the car, Quenioux
kets for them without success, though           rant Bistro LQ was picketed for serv-            opened the bag to examine the goods, a
once, on a tip from a lady who overheard        ing foie gras, he was unperturbed; he says       pale-orange slush, scattered with clumps
him complaining to his barber about their       that when the ban on foie gras goes into         of oblong ant babies. “Ooh!” he squealed.
unavailability, he discovered some frozen       effect next year in California, he will serve     “We got the loot!”
Thai ant larvae (labelled as “puffed rice”) in   it anyway. “We are known to be a little bit          A week later, he was at Starry Kitchen,
an Asian grocery store in Virginia. Raffa’s      rebellious,” he told me. “They can fine me        a lunch counter downtown owned by
boss, José Andrés, told me that he consid-      every day.”                                      Nguyen and Thi Tran, who until recently
ers escamoles a delicacy, and if he could get       It is the same with escamoles. “We do it     ran it as an underground supper club out
them he’d put them on the menu at Mini-         for the culinary adventure,” he said. He         of their apartment. Nguyen was bounding
bar, his acclaimed six-seat restaurant in       has made blinis with ant eggs and caviar,        around the kitchen, talking about his role
Washington, D.C.                                and a three-egg dish of escamoles, quail         in getting the escamoles, which Quenioux
    In April, I called Laurent Quenioux, a      eggs, and salmon roe. He has fantasized          was going to serve as an amuse-bouche. “I
French-born chef based in Los Angeles,          about making an escamole quiche, and,            called everyone, from Laos, Cambodia,
who was a semifinalist for a 2011 award          using just the albumen that drains out           Thailand—all the sources I know got
from the James Beard Foundation and is          when the eggs are frozen, meringue. His          caught,” he said. He was thrilled about the
the only chef I know of in this country         signature dish is a corn tortilla resting on a   air of the forbidden which the dish would
who has escamoles on the menu. He was           nasturtium leaf and topped with escamoles        confer. “It’s going to be a great note to
trying to get some to serve at Starry           sautéed in butter with epazote, shallots,        start on—not even the taste, just them
Kitchen, where he was going to be chef-         and serrano chilis, served with a shot of        knowing it was smuggled and it’s ant
in-residence for the summer. “Basically,        Mexican beer and a lime gel. Insects are,        eggs,” he said.
you need to smuggle them,” he said. His         to him, like any other ingredient: a chal-           To complement a menu full of Asian
connection, a Mexican living near Hi-           lenge and an opportunity. “Let’s do gas-         flavors—teriyaki rabbit meatballs in miso
dalgo who brought the eggs in Styrofoam         tronomy with bugs,” he said. “Let’s make         broth, veal sweetbreads with shishito pep-
cups in his carry-on luggage, didn’t work       something delicious.”                            pers and yuzu—Quenioux had decided to
anymore; the last two times Quenioux                Quenioux talked about escamoles all the      prepare the escamoles with Thai basil and
had placed an order, he’d prepaid, only to      way down south—their delicate eggy               serve them with Sapporo. “These are very
have his shipment confiscated by customs         qualities, their wildness, their unexpected      spicy,” he said, placing an ample green
at LAX.                                         appearance (“condensed milk with little          nasturtium leaf on a plate. “I foraged them
    A week before the soft launch of Que-       pebbles in it”), the responsibility he feels     from my garden this morning.” There was
nioux’s residency at Starry Kitchen, I heard    to train the American palate to accept           a light sheen of sweat on his forehead.
that he had a line on some escamoles. He        them. “The insects will be the solution to           Just before the service, the waiters
knew a guy who knew a guy who would             feed all those masses, but how do you get        started to panic. “What am I telling
bring them across the border from Ti-           insects on the daily table in America?” he       them?” one asked. “I can’t just go up to
juana; we simply had to drive down to a         said. “In the last twenty years, we grew         them and say it’s ant eggs.”
meeting place on the U.S. side and escort       here in America from iceberg lettuce to              “Tell them it’s very exotic, and tradi-
them back. We set a time, and I went to         baby frisée, so the time is now.”                tional in Mexico City,” the sous-chef said.
a street corner in Pasadena, where Que-             After a few hours, we arrived at a strip         “This is an amuse from the chef,” a
nioux lives; when I arrived, a red Toyota       mall and parked in front of a drugstore,         waiter said, presenting me with the dish,
Corolla was waiting. The window came            then walked toward the meeting place, a          a composition as spare and earthy as a Jap-
down partway, and I heard someone call          restaurant, where the escamoles had been         anese garden. “It’s smuggled-in ant eggs.”
my name.                                        entrusted to a woman named Nadia.                I rolled the leaf around the tortilla and bit:
    Quenioux is a gentle person, with           “O.K., let’s go talk to Nadia,” Quenioux         peppery nasturtium, warm, sweet tortilla,
huge, pale-green eyes, a bald-shaved head,      said, getting out of the car. “I’ve got the      and then the light pop of escamoles burst-
a set of prayer beads around his wrist, and     cash.”                                           ing like tiny corn kernels. A whiff of dirt,
the endearingly antisocial habit of seeing          The front door to the restaurant was         a sluice of beer, and that was it. They were
everything he encounters as potential           open, and an old man with a drooping             gone by night’s end. 
food: the deer near Mt. Wilson, which he        mustache was mopping the floor. “Hola,
hunts with a bow and arrow; the purple          señor,” Quenioux said. The old man
blossoms of the jacaranda trees; a neigh-       pointed to a Dutch door, which led to the        newyorker.com/video
bor’s chicken, which he killed and cooked       kitchen. Quenioux stuck his head in, and         Dana Goodyear on cooking insects.

46	      THE	NEW	YORKER,	AUGUST	15	&	22,	2011

				
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